Privacy Advocates Laud Lapse of Key Patriot Act Provisions
After key elements of the USA Patriot Act are not renewed, the bulk collection of metadata on Americans is no longer allowed. But that doesn't mean the intelligence community is now powerless.As expected, American lawmakers were unable to come to an agreement to renew provisions of the USA Patriot Act before a deadline of midnight on May 31. As a result of the lapse, Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, which is the legal tool that enables U.S intelligence agencies to collect bulk metadata on communications, is no longer authorized. The Section 215 provisions were used by the National Security Agency (NSA) as the legal justification for surveillance efforts that first became public after whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the metadata program's existence in June 2013. That July, the then head of the NSA, Gen. Keith Alexander, explained at the Black Hat USA conference that the metadata program helps identify the communications of persons suspected to be associated with terrorists. At the time, Alexander stressed that the program does not include the content of phone calls or emails. Privacy advocates are cautiously optimistic that the lapse in Patriot Act powers will help to enable improved privacy. "Today's vote, at least a temporary sunset, and the debate of the last few weeks are a reflection of strong support—across the political spectrum—for meaningful and comprehensive reform of the surveillance laws," Michael Macleod-Ball, acting director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Washington Legislative Office, said in a statement. "Congress should take advantage of this sunset to pass far reaching surveillance reform, instead of the weak bill currently under consideration."
The ACLU has been a vocal opponent of many provisions in the Patriot Act and has argued that the Section 215 collected metadata has not in fact been a critical element in terrorism investigations.